SIDE TWO, TRACK FOUR: LIFE BEGINS AT THE HOP
A man in her room. A man, huge and towering, flickering in and out of reality as he loomed over her, his clutching hands going for her neck as she lay in bed, drugged and barely conscious.
It might have been real; it might have been a dream. But either way, it was enough to send her fumbling out of bed, colliding with every bit of furniture she had in her woozy, dead-headed rush to the door.
Her father found Andi, still half-asleep, trying to force the lock on his gun cabinet.
“Whoa,” he said, taking her hands in his and steering her away. “Hey, hey, what are you doing?”
“The man,” she mumbled. “Man in my room.”
“What man?” he asked, alert and stern.
“In my room,” she said, and leaned against him for warmth. She felt something between her face and his shirt, an extra layer of thin cloth. “Gotta shootum.”
He crouched, pulling her with him until she sat, swaying gently, on the hallway floor. “Wait here, baby,” he said. “Don’t mess with the guns.”
Dad was gone for a few minutes. Andi jerked awake for a second at the thought of him opening her closet and finding the rat-thing waiting, but fatigue won and closed her eyes again.
He came back, heavy steps approaching her. “There’s nobody there, Andi,” he said, and pulled her up to stand. “Do you want to go back to bed?”
“Do you want to sleep with Mom?”
“M’fourteen, Daddy. M’not a little girl.”
“I know.” He led her by the hand, just like when she was young and they’d go to Astroworld during the summer, down the hall to her parents’ room.
“Hey, she needs to bunk up with you tonight, okay? She’s having a rough night. I’ll take her room.”
“God, poor thing. Of course. C’mere, honey.” Dad led her to the empty side of the bed and Andi slid under the covers, into Mom’s gentle hug, without protest. “This stress is eating her up, Joseph.”
“I know. Damn school.” Then, his voice came from further away. “We’ll talk about it in the morning, make a decision then. Good night.”
Andi snuggled up, feeling safer than she had in days, and let pure, natural sleep claim her, a tear of gratitude mingling with the sleep-crusties in her eyes.
The man came back, like all nightmares do, but he was far away this time, a dot on the horizon. And no matter how fast he ran, he could never get any closer.
Andi woke early, disentangling herself from Mom, and sat on the edge of her parents’ king-size as the morning light leaked through the curtains.
She thought about the day ahead, and if she’d survive it.
Cy had to be gunning for her. She was the only one who knew about his plan (whatever it actually entailed), and she’d made clear her intent to stop it. But before she’d even opposed him, he’d tried to slip her a drugged soda.
So why hadn’t he walked the few blocks to her house, stood outside her window, and created something in her room to kill her?
Maybe he’d tried. Maybe she hadn’t been dreaming last night.
She stood. Dad.
Andi raced down the hall and opened her door.
Dad lay in her bed, curled up, gently snoring, and unharmed.
She let out a huff of relief. Then, to convince herself of his well-being, she walked over and gave his hair a light, affectionate pat, but not so light that he didn’t grumble awake.
“Hrrm…hey, Little Flame.” He shifted, tangling his flannel pajamas with the blankets, and rubbed his eyes. “Did you sleep okay?”
“You ready for breakfast?”
“Yes, please.” The thought of food sent her from normal to starving in a snap.
“Okay,” he said, and rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep. “Go wake your mother.”
Andi laughed at the old joke and reached out, poking his shoulder, doink-doink-doink. “Daddyyy!”
“…All right, all right,” he said, and got up, yawning and scratching his head. “Chef’s on duty.” He walked past her, but paused. “And afterward, we’ll change those bandages.”
She didn’t know what he was talking about until she looked down, seeing herself for the first time. Band-aids and gauze, dotting her arms and, as she felt around, her face and neck. She could even feel it rustle in her pajama legs, gauze against fabric.
She had no idea what had happened.
“We heard the crash last night,” Dad said over the sizzle of frying sausage patties. “Went out and found you passed out in the hedge on your bike.” He turned and smiled. “You just konked out. Everything finally got to you, I guess.”
Andi frowned, now feeling the itch of dozens of jabs and scrapes all over her body.
Mom wandered into the kitchen, matching Dad yawn for yawn, and hugged Andi. “Somebody got a solid night’s sleep,” Mom said, then moved away to peck Dad on his stubbly cheek.
“Hot stuff, coming through,” Dad said, and put a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast in front of Andi. Mom poured some V-8 and set the glass by Andi’s food.
As she ate, devouring the food at first then picking at the dregs, her folks got their own breakfast together and joined her. She looked up from forking a fluff of scrambled eggs into her mouth to find them looking at her. Smiling, unthreatening, but staring all the same.
“Ummm…” she managed, around the mouthful of food.
“Honey,” Mom said, “we’ve been thinking about it. We’re worried that everything that’s been going on, plus all your school work and electives, are overloading you. And that you fell asleep riding your bike last night is the capper.”
“Mom, I’m just –”
Mom closed her eyes. “Andi, it was dark. What if you’d passed out a few blocks away, in the middle of the street? What if someone hadn’t seen you in time?” She opened her eyes. They glistened. “What we’ve decided to do is this: we’re taking you out of school for the rest of the year. We’re going to get you a private tutor to keep you up to date with your schoolwork, and then you can go back to campus after New Year’s.” She held up a hand as Andi began to protest. “We’re not forbidding you from seeing your friends, or anything like that. Well, besides the ones we already talked about. You can still hang out with Wren and the girls. This is not a punishment; this is just…simplifying your life for a couple of months.”
Andi wondered how her mother would react if she knew precisely how complicated her daughter’s life currently was.
Or how much more complicated it was going to get.
But…was that a silver lining glinting at her? No school meant no snooping students or interfering teachers reporting back to her parents. No school meant she could meet with Benjamin and try to solve this nightmare without outside troubles.
“And,” Mom said, “we know tonight is the Halloween dance, and we know how hard you and your friends have worked on it, and how much it means to you. You can go and tell your friends what’s going on, and say…well, not goodbye, but au revoir.”
With that, Andi agreed so enthusiastically she worried her parents might suspect she had another motive.
She wanted to go to the dance, and had been prepared to beg her folks to let her.
Because since she woke up, she’d had the beginnings of a plan bubbling in her head.
And the dance was crucial to its success.
At this point in her life, Andi had exhausted both ‘redhead girl Halloween costumes’ — Raggedy Ann and Pippi Longstocking — several times over.
Luckily, she had another costume now. One she’d gotten very comfortable in.
Mom almost managed to hide her frown when Andi came downstairs that evening in the green dress, pancake makeup blanching her face, hair done up in haloing ringlets. Her scratches and scabs looked more like makeup effects than actual injuries.
“It’s all I had handy,” Andi lied.
“Well…okay.” In truth, Mom might have been right to frown, since the last time she’d seen Andi dressed like that, the girl had been getting out of a police car.
Dad, too, appeared less than happy at her costume choice, but he drove her to the school all the same, singing along to Sixties music on the radio. Andi joined in on the ones she knew.
“When is this thing over again?” he asked, as they pulled into the gym parking lot.
“Eight thirty,” Andi said.
“I still don’t understand why they had to do this on a Wednesday,” Dad said. “Seems like it could run later on a Friday or Saturday.”
“Tomorrow and Friday are football, Dad,” she said, “and Saturday’s November 1st.”
“Oh, right,” he said. “Football.” Then, she chorused along with him, “Damn school.”
Dad grinned at that despite himself. “Don’t cuss. It’s not ladylike.” He reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “Have fun. See you after eight.”
Andi got out and waved him goodbye, hurting terribly inside.
She hadn’t figured the odds, but there might be a chance she’d never see him again.
The last-minute decoration after school today had gone off without incident, with streamers and cutouts and banners strung and hung by committee members dedicated to pulling off a great dance rather than stroking their egos. Scuttlebutt around school said the high schoolers were having much less success getting their Thursday dance together.
The flags who’d arrived fashionably early mobbed her, complimenting her on her outfit, even if her explanation bored-slash-confused them.
“A banshee is a spirit from Celtic mythology…” Andi would begin, before their eyes glazed over.
She saw, and waved at, a few other friendly girls before touching base with the other dance committee members, checking that their areas of expertise had been covered. Snacks, check. Punch, check. Music — currently ‘In A Big Country,’ blaring through the loudspeakers, check.
Then it was time to make her own check.
She spotted him after just a few seconds, leaning against a far wall, cup of punch in hand. She knew he’d be here. He came to every school function, no matter how unwelcome he was, just to irritate people.
One could, after enough observation, surmise that everything he did was calculated to irritate people.
This was her last time at school until next year, so she strode across the empty basketball court, not caring who — peer or chaperone — saw her. She might have waited until enough students had gotten over their initial shyness to start dancing, providing her with a little cover, but time was crucial.
It was only a matter of time until the other person she expected to be here showed up.
“Red,” said Eddie as she walked up to him. Then, as she got into better light and he saw her scrapes and cuts, “Jesus, what happened to you? Looks like you got dragged through a hedge backwards.”
“You’re half right,” Andi said. “Listen, Eddie.” She looked around then drew a deep breath. “You did shoot lightning out of your fingers. Everything strange at Randall’s house? It really happened.”
“You talked to –”
She nodded. “Yes, yes, yes — but it’s not him. It’s not Benjamin, it never was. It’s Cy. Cy’s the one behind it. He kidnapped Eury, he — he made Jason out of thin air. Now, I know you’re his friend, but I was at Cy’s house last night, and –”
Eddie held up a hand. The smart-assery had started draining out of his face the moment Andi had mentioned Cy, and now it was all gone, leaving nothing but seriousness in its wake.
Seriousness, and a little anger.
“Yeah. Yeah, he is my friend. My friend since kindergarten, Red, and my friend when a lot of other people stopped being my friend. Now, I don’t know why Benjamin might be trying to drive a wedge between us, but…”
“He wasn’t…isn’t…!” She glanced around the gym. If she couldn’t get Eddie on board, what chance did her plan have?
“You weren’t here when my dad robbed the Allsup’s and went to jail. You weren’t here when this town turned its back on my mom and me. Even Benjamin wasn’t my friend then. But Cy was. He’s always been there. So whatever ‘proof’ you think you’ve uncovered about him…whatever ‘evidence’ Benjamin has whispered in that little ear of yours…it’s all crap.” Eddie drained his cup. “I’m thirsty,” he said, and stalked away to the punch bowl.
Right then, Cy entered the gym.
He had three other kids with him, no one Andi recognized, and before she could move to intercept, they had met up with Eddie.
The conversation was quick and animated, and Eddie pointed across the gymnasium at Andi more than once. She could see Cy shake his head, that’s-too-bad, a couple of times.
Then they were walking towards her, all five of them, Cy in the lead.
When he got far enough ahead of the pack, so that none of them could see his face, Cy gave Andi a wink.
Today’s Words: 2222
Total Words: 33852
Notes: Not as much writing today as I’d hoped to get done, but I think I’m still on track to finish this on Halloween. It might be an all-day marathon, however…!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)